Sunday, February 12, 2012

Reset Sunday: Driving Meditation or How to be a Driving Ninja

So many of us, especially my fellow Angelenos out there, spend too much time in our cars. The result: we often experience impatience, annoyance, hatred, boredom, frustration, sleepiness, and general dysphoria while driving. Aside from changing our lifestyles to drive less which is not always easy or practical, here is a mindful practice that can change the way we experience being stuck in traffic and commuting.  And for those of you, who want to have a meditation practice but don't have think you have the time, here is a place to start.

When we think of mediation, the first thing that come to mind for many people is a monk or yogi sitting crossed legged with eyes closed, clearing their mind of all thoughts. Obviously, this is not what we are going to be attempting while driving. Instead, our eyes will be fully open and alert. We will be sitting in our seat relaxed and responsive. And, most importantly, we will be observing the thoughts, emotions and body sensations that arise without judgement. The intention of this practice is not an empty mind, although that may occur. Rather, it is the Undistracted Awareness of everything you are experiencing in the present moment.

Undistracted Awareness while driving is an obvious upgrade from our usual autopilot, spaced-out, multi-tasking mode of driving. You will be relaxed yet ready to respond to any situation whether it be getting stuck behind a slow truck on a narrow mountain road or getting cut off by a impatient SUV on the freeway. You will become a driving ninja. Here's how:
  1. Begin by deepening your breathe. Let the inhale fill your entire body. Let the exhales empty completely. Feel your sitting bones and tail bone sink down into the seat. Feel the inhale rising up through the spine, lengthening the body. The heart space opens. The shoulders relax back and down and the crown the head reaches upward.
  2. Your body is soft and responsive to the movement of the breath. The breath is waking up every cell. Your whole being is waking up. You feel your hands guiding the steering wheel. You feel the pressure of your foot on the pedal. You feel the vibration of the car and the texture of the road.
  3. Your eyes are alert, taking in all the other cars around you, the curve of the road, the lights, the buildings or trees surrounding you. Glancing in your mirrors, you establish a clear awareness of everything that is happening around you.
  4. Now, let your ears perk up. You can hear the motor of your car, the shifting of gears, the wind going by. Maybe you hear a car coming up behind you or passing you. Allow your ears to be awake to all sounds.
  5. As thoughts and feelings arise, simply observe them without a judgement. There's a thought about dinner. There's a thought about work tomorrow. There's a feeling of frustration at a slow driver. Notice how these thoughts and emotions are echoing through the body. Are the shoulders tensing or the jaw gripping? Does the chest feel constricted? Simply notice these sensations and then, consciously relax the body, bringing the awareness back to all the sensations driving. Take a deep breath. What do you see right now? What do you hear? What can you feel? Pay attention to the moment right now. Wake up and slide into complete awareness.
  6. Remember that you are not alone right now. Every car contains a human being, an entire life, an entire consciousness. Even if you are on an empty road remember there are animals hidden in the brush, grasses or trees. There may be people walking along the road or crossing the street. This is a perfect opportunity to practice compassion and a deep respect for life. Let this feeling of compassion guide the choices you make while driving. How can I show compassion right now? Maybe, it is by slowing down in a residential area, or letting a car merge in front of you or by forgiving the person who cut you off, forgiving their impatience because maybe you have had similar feelings or made mistakes of your own before. Honor your life and the lives of all those that you are sharing the road with right now.
  7. Your thoughts may wander. Your attention may become distracted. It's ok. Just keep returning to  the present moment. Return to your breath. Return to your experience of being on the road right now, right here.
I will soon be posting an audio recording of this mediation as well. Happy and safe driving to all the driving ninjas out there!

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